Review: Grand Theft Auto V (XBOX 360)
Grand Theft Auto V has a lot riding on its shoulders. The series is known for its liberal use of glorifying crime so much that it has carved out a fan base that no other game genre has managed to do.
And with great power comes great responsibility. As the niche fans flock to the game, the sales will undoubtedly impress more traditional gamers to go out and buy the title for themselves. So it’s not enough to put just any old title on the shelves, this has to be something worth purchasing and keeping, so as not to inundate the bargain bins of the gaming retail world.
As you can see, I put a lot of thought into what Grand Theft Auto V should be like as a pin-up to the gaming industry. Most of the people who will pick up Grand Theft Auto V would not go for something traditional, like The Legend of Zelda or Just Dance, so I think it’s important that any mainstream game that has the ability to capture a new or niche audience in a big way has the responsibility to do a lot of things right, to show that audience that gaming is not just about Tetris and geeks.
Grand Theft Auto starts out as you would probably imagine: with a bank robbery. Three guys are working together to take some serious cash and fight their way through a high octane police chase that goes horribly wrong. Two of the team members, including Michael Townley, are presumed dead, and the third, Trevor Philips, gets out of there with his life.
The game fast-forwards nine years and Michael is actually very much alive and in witness protection, living it up in the rich side of Los Santos. Now a retired criminal, he is undergoing therapy to resolve his various issues.
The story also follows Franklin Clinton, a repo guy who is working for a crook of a car salesman. Eventually, Franklin, Michael and Trevor — who is now a crazy meth dealer — meet up and their fates intertwine. The story in Grand Theft Auto V is actually quite compelling so ruining it here in a review would be a disservice. The missions are opt-in, so you are able to progress at your own pace but the writing is good enough to keep you hooked on wanting to know what comes next.
Story plays a key role in Grand Theft Auto V and the characters are incredibly fleshed out. Michael will deal with his wife and kids, Franklin will be torn between life in the ‘hood and the high rollers, and Trevor will work through his intense rage as his business empire grows. All these story lines actually eventuate outside of the main plot and are revealed through side quests. The timing of these also depends on your relationships with key characters in the game, and how willing you are to talk to certain strangers.
You can do almost anything you can imagine in the game.
The scale of Grand Theft Auto dwarfs the story. Firstly, you will be amazed at how much there is to do in Los Santos. The staples are all there — driving around at breakneck speeds, mowing down pedestrians and outrunning the law, the occasional sports such as golf, tennis and darts, shooting ranges, blimp rides, scuba diving and racing all types of vehicles. It’s an endless ride of life-consuming goodness.
Once the three characters have been introduced to each other, the player is free to switch back and forth between the three at will. Keeping the three in harmony is a balancing act, but crucial for some of the more intense missions. The premise is simple enough: the more you do with your characters, the better they will get at doing them. Each have skill points, like driving, that they can improve on to make missions easier.
All three have specialities, too. Franklin is the best driver and can slow down time while in a vehicle, good for pulling off tricky turns and making a fast escape. Michael can slow down time while on foot, so aiming weapons is a breeze. Trevor can also slow time down on foot, with the added advantage of resisting damage while doing so thanks to his immense rage. Using all three skills in combination is key to getting a gold rating at the end of each mission.
Missions are varied and non-repetitive. One mission might have you plan, set up and execute a jewellery store, another has you sniper a party-goer while your companion tortures a whistleblower. The more elaborate missions are the best as they have you completing various objectives over several days.
Mission running is still only a dent in the surface of Grand Theft Auto‘s huge scale. You can do almost anything you can imagine in the game. Want to buy stocks in a company? You can, and while you’re at it, why not go to the rival company’s HQ and kill their CEO to send your stocks soaring. Want to join a cult? Beat up a Ryan Seacreat parody? Take a selfie? Fight a horde of aliens? Hell, it’s fun just to explore the huge map the game offers you.
Perhaps the best part of Grand Theft Auto V is that it takes the series back to its roots. The flavour of the original games is littered throughout this title and it’s a good thing — sure, it’s glorifying crime, but it does so in a light way with much less emphasis on the seedy underworld and more focus on the Hollywood view of high class criminals. It’s more Oceans 11 than Chopper and is leagues ahead in accessibility than Grand Theft Auto IV.
The scale of Grand Theft Auto V has meant a bit of a presentation bump over previous games. The city is less populated with pedestrians and the graphics have been toned done. Gone are the blood smears over sidewalks, there seems to be less buildings and the rural areas are sparse. In context, it makes sense but when you look closely it appears that certain aspects of the game have been taken out — like the blood smearing — in order to ramp up the graphics and make the game as huge as possible.
What ended up happening, though, is that these limitations actually lifts the appeal of Grand Theft Auto V. The scenery looks amazing and the rest does its job nicely. You can still mow down people on the sidewalk if you like, but don’t expect there to be as much destruction or visual evidence left behind as in previous games.
This also applies to overall themes such as drugs and sex. It has all been toned down. Not in a way that it would annoy fans of the series, but enough to make the game more open to players who usually turn their nose up at such lowbrow themes. It’s still there, but it’s not smacking you in the face every five minutes.
Grand Theft Auto V has managed to exceed my expectations and put to rest any of my fears about mass bargain bin dumping. There’s so much to do that it will be almost impossible for anyone to not find something they love doing in this game.
Grand Theft Auto V is the best game in the series and has managed to elevate the genre to a whole new level. It’s still not child friendly, but for older gamers there is so much on offer that it becomes a game that will sit in your collection forever.